January 23, 2006
Prior Zacke knowledge may have
With the help of testimony from convicted murderer Clarence Zacke, Brevard County prosecutors sent Wilton Dedge to prison for 22 years for a crime he did not commit.
Last month, Zacke was sentenced to life in prison for raping his adopted daughter 30 years ago.
Now, Dedge's attorneys are calling for an investigation of the state attorney's office after learning during Zacke's rape trial that the child-rape allegations were the subject of a grand jury investigation before Dedge's trial in 1984.
"Did the state attorney's office know about Zacke's sexual assaults when he was called by the state to testify against Wilton Dedge?" asked Sandy D'Alemberte, former president of the American Bar Association, who recently helped Dedge win $2 million in compensation from the state. "If so, it had a duty to tell the defense. It is important that we not ignore the issues in these cases where we have absolute proof that the justice system has erred. Investigative powers are available to the governor, the courts, the Florida Bar and the Legislature."
Dedge was wrongly convicted of raping a Brevard County teenager and then slashing her with a knife. Zacke, who already was serving time in prison for murder, testified that Dedge had confessed the entire crime to him during a chance encounter on a prison transport van just before Dedge was to go on trial. Zacke testified that his sole motivation for coming forward was because he hated anyone who hurt women.
During Zacke's December 2005 trial, Public Defender Randy Moore revealed that prosecutors knew about the allegations.
"The state -- for whatever reason -- sat on this case for 30 years and now is in a big rush to try it. This came to the attention of the state attorney's office 30 years ago," he said in court.
This prompted Judge Lisa Davidson to authorize releasing some of the sealed grand jury records to Moore, but the records were incomplete.
"This was brought to the attention of law enforcement, and those records seem to have disappeared."
Brevard County State Attorney Norman Wolfinger, who was working for the public defender's office in 1984, defended the prosecutors in the case in a prepared statement.
"Neither trial prosecutor Chris White nor Wayne Holmes had any knowledge of the sexual allegations made against Clarence Zacke until the victim came forward in the fall of 2004," Wolfinger said. "When this information from the victim came to light, she was immediately placed in contact with FDLE, which successfully investigated the case."
Zacke's rape victim, however, said she testified before the grand jury in the 1980s.
To date, no one has sent an official request to Gov. Jeb Bush to investigate the state's handling of the case, according to the governor's press office.
"If Brevard County prosecutors knew about the rape allegations but still let him present himself to the jury at Wilton's trial as a 'defender of women's honor,' it would be a legal and ethical breach of the most serious kind," said New York attorney Nina Morrison with the Innocence Project. "An agency with the authority to enforce these ethical rules, such as the Florida Bar or the Supreme Court, should conduct a full investigation into what these prosecutors knew and when they knew it."
The Innocence Project is the group responsible for having DNA evidence tested that led to Dedge's exoneration and release more than a year ago.
Dedge thinks prosecutors withheld information about Zacke's sexual misconduct to secure a conviction against him.
"I think they should have told us about it, and they knew about it," he said. "We filed a motion of discovery. They have to pass over everything they know, not just what they want to share with us."
Even Zacke's former attorney Joe Mitchell said he remembers allegations "floating around" but can't remember exactly who knew about them.
"But I would be the last person they would tell if they were investigating and the first person to know if he was getting charged," he said.
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